As we approached Christmas Day, we queued up holiday movies at the Hardison house. We began a little earlier with Elf, followed that with Home Alone, and then capped things off – on Christmas Eve – with the Chevy Chase classic, Christmas Vacation. My last three Christmases have all been after I left cold Chicago and moved to warmer climes, and while for most of my Chicago years I would be in LA or somewhere warm anyway, it was still weird for me to approach Christmas here (and my vacation) with such warm weather. I’m used to the twenty-one winters of snow and cold that I experienced in Chicago. Believe me…I am not complaining that it was warm and sunny here as December came to its end. But it still felt weird to watch snowy Christmas movies and be surrounded by the warmth of Antigua Guatemala.
The lead-up to Thanksgiving had been big, and while December had started quietly, I was hoping for a boost in business as we got closer to Christmas. The second Tuesday of the month coincided with the start of Hanukkah, and as I prepared to co-host our monthly Shabbat group for a Hanukkah dinner, I tested out doughnuts.
With the arrival of December, it meant two critical things: 1) Christmas season was fully upon us here in Guatemala; and 2) Jeffrey was back from his time in the States. The two go hand-in-hand, because with a more experienced Alis and the return of a lead baker, that means some of the heavy burden of the bakery can come off my shoulders. It also meant that not only did I not have to get started at 6 am everyday to bake the bread and start the next day’s bread dough, but also that I could step away from the bakery as needed, or desired. I could run errands during the day, instead of after we closed. I could go to the city. I could relax. I could stay in bed a little later. I was so excited about what this meant for me!
It was exciting to think about what Thanksgiving might bring to Canela Antigua. I know there are plenty of expats who’d be in town for the holiday, but would they go with the known quantities of Thanksgiving pie-making (such as Epicure or San Martin), or would they give the new guy a chance?
Bethany helped me decide on the flavors to offer, and it was fun to announce it and see what would happen. While waiting for the orders to start rolling in, I wanted to test the pies out and iron out any kinks. I’d made everything before…but never here, and never with the current set of ingredients and equipment.
What was missing from the previous post, about my return to LA, was how surreal it was. Antigua life and SoCal life are completely different, in nearly every way. And yet, it wasn’t culture shock that settled in almost immediately upon landing in Los Angeles. It was a disconnect with reality. LA felt familiar, as would be expected. But as I started doing the same exact things I had done before leaving (driving to see friends, walking around my neighborhood, hanging out at my parents’ house), it was both comfortable and bizarre at the same time. It’s hard to describe, but the best way I answered the question when people asked me what it was like to be back, was, “When I’m here in LA, the Antigua life seems like a dream, and when I’m there, LA seems like a dream.” Each place feels normal when I’m there and unreal when I’m not.
Anyway…while I was sad to leave friends and family behind, there was a calmness that returned when I landed back in Guatemala. Red-eyes are never fun, so while there was calmness, there was also a bit of disorientation borne of exhaustion. Jeffrey had been maintaining the sourdough starter, so he met me at the bakery and we sleep-walked through our typical Monday prep. As soon as he was gone, I collapsed!
Picking up where I left off, the week featuring the launch of ice cream sandwiches and paninis was a decent one, but it ended with a very, very slow Sunday. So as we looked ahead to the following week (and the start of September), I felt that pushing my ice cream sandwich day to Sunday might help me boost sales.
Considering the sizable contingent of customers who opt for my vegan chocolate chip cookies and vegan brownies, I figured that the vegetarian (and vegan) panini would be an attractive addition to the menu. Like the chorizo sandwich, in which it’s pretty quick to put the operation together, I aimed for similar components for this panini.
It’s been about a month since my last post, and while business has been kind of slow, a lot has transpired in that time period. From a broad bakery standpoint, August-into-September was very quiet. Having never been in Antigua during this time of year, I didn’t know in advance that September is the deadest month of the year. From the boom of July, to a moderate pace in August, as I approached September, I could see what people were talking about.
So while the volume of sales wasn’t what I’d seen before, the relative quiet of the time of year allowed for us to innovate in the bakery and look ahead at expanding our menu and variety of offerings.